Bird bio

Bird Bio: Cliff Swallow

If you’re a paddler or fisherman and spend time on local rivers and lakes you have probably seen and experienced the Cliff Swallow.  This bird arrives in middle-TN in early spring from March to early April from its winter home in Southern South America.   

The Cliff Swallow is about 5.5” in length with a wingspan of roughly 13”.  Like other swallows they are aerial specialists catching their main food source, flying insects, on the wing.  It is similar to the Barn Swallow in appearance. The difference is the Cliff Swallow has a squared tail as opposed to a notched tail, and has a tawny, buff colored rump and a white patch on the forehead.  It has a chestnut face with bluish black head.  You must see one through binoculars to appreciate the beautiful color contrasts and details.

Once a western U.S. bird only its range has increased from Alaska to New England and south into Mexico.  The reason may be that they have continued to adapt to man-made structures like bridges and buildings for nest building.  Cliff Swallows are colony nesters with most colonies numbering between 100 and 200 nests.  Both male and female construct distinctive, gourd shaped-mud nests.  The mud is shaped into pellets and one by one set in place.  Nest building takes from 5-14 days but in many cases birds return to nest-sites and repair the year previous nest.    Nests are placed on a vertical wall, usually just under an overhang and usually over water.    The male and female tend to the nestlings, which fledge when about 24 days old.

Side Notes:

  •        Some of you are seeing Bluebirds nesting for a third time.  Usually by mid-August a third nesting will be completed, although I have seen a few times Bluebirds fledge in the first week of September. We stock live mealworms year round in case your Bluebirds need a little assistance.  Currently we distribute mealworms in styro cups, however, if you have a suitable container at home (like a reusable plastic container)we can fill it for you.  Just bring it with you and we can add the desired amount.  The less need for styro the better.
  •        We are hearing from some of you hummingbirds are beginning to increase in number and frequency at feeders.  Be patient if you haven’t seen much activity yet.  This will change soon.  We hear all too frequently that people are leaving nectar in their feeders far too long.

IMPORTANT!  Nectar is only good in the feeder for 3 to 4 days, less if the feeder gets a lot of sun.  You will not get much activity if the nectar is hot and spoiling. 

  •        Be careful to not purchase too much seed as we enter the dog days of summer.  Believe it or not the feeding will slow down at your feeders.  Storing a lot of seed in a container for several hot months may result in a mealmoth hatch.  Buying smaller quantities and using it up completely before getting more is a good strategy.
  •        The Wood Thrush Shop offers free at home Squirrel-proofing Consultations.  John and Jamie have been busy making house calls assisting customers frustrated by squirrels.  We know our product and where it works best enabling us to suggest real solutions to your bird feeding problems.  It is in our best interest for you to have squirrel-proof feeding stations.  We’ll make it happen.

Bird Bio: Cedar Waxwing

In winter here in middle-Tennessee you are likely to see a flock of these beautiful birds as they descend on a berry laden tree or shrub, and strip it clean of its fruit before moving on to the next supply of berries, or birdbath opportunity.

Cedar waxwings are predominantly in middle-Tennessee during the winter months roaming about in small to large flocks devouring berries and taking over birdbaths.  They are distinguished by the crest on the head, black mask, soft brown and yellow plumage, and the yellow band on the tail, as if it’s been dipped in yellow paint. Present but not easily seen, unless you are looking through binoculars, are the red tips near the end of the wings.  They are slightly smaller than a Cardinal.

Because they are so unpredictable in their comings and goings it is hard to offer them anything in the way of food.  Having the types of plants that produce berries and providing a water source are the keys to attracting this elegant bird.  It is an uncommon resident of Tennessee outside of the winter months. 

Cedar Waxwings have actually been known to get drunk on berries that have begun fermenting.  Cold temperatures concentrate the sugar in fruit, and then a temperature increase accelerates the speed at which the sugars break down.  The alcohol that forms is more potent than what would normally come from fermented berries-sort of like vodka instead of beer.  They will binge on the berries until tipsy and actually have difficulty flying straight, or in some cases stumbling around on the ground.  The likelihood of hitting windows in flight increases as well.  The reflective window decals we have at the store are quite effective at reducing window hits.  If you experience a drunken bird in your yard you could help the bird by collecting it in a box with some soft bedding and let it sleep off the effects in a quiet place.  Usually a bird will recuperate in a couple hours.

Bird Bio: Winter Wren

During the month of October several of our winter birds will be arriving.  One of the less common is the Winter Wren.  This is our smallest wren and can be found across the state October through April.  I have seen them most often along the Harpeth River, making their way through dense underbrush in search of food; insects and berries.  Don’t expect to see this 4” bird (Carolina wrens are 5 ½”) at your feeders, although it is possible.  I have only seen this bird at a suet feeder a few times and only during the most bitter and snowy weather. You are more likely to attract them with brushpiles.

The Winter Wren is described as a very small, round, dark wren and has a much stubbier tail than the other wrens.  It has an indistinct buffy eyebrow and a heavily barred belly.  It is a busy little bird, bobbing and flicking its wings and tends to stay near the ground. It has a beautiful, complex song, however, around hear one is more likely to hear its “yip” “yip” call.

A few good places to see a Winter Wren are the Harpeth River Greenway, Hidden Lakes Park, Gossett Tract, and Narrows of the Harpeth.